Rules of the Off-Road
Camp Shelby, Mississippi
It was late November in southern Mississippi. The weather throughout the week had been cool with scattered showers — conditions just right for a great weekend of deer hunting. I was in my study, cleaning my deer rifle and getting my ammunition ready for the hunt. Once I finished, I gathered my hunting clothes and took everything out to my carport so I would be ready for the next day.
Once I had my gear loaded in the hunting box and secured my rifle in my gun scabbard, I started the inspection on my Arctic Cat 500 all-terrain vehicle (ATV). About two months earlier, I’d taken an ATV safety training course conducted by my unit and taught by one of my officers. He covered proper riding techniques in different types of terrain, safety inspections — to include T-CLOCS — and proper personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements.
With that training still fresh in my mind, I completed my inspection checklist and made sure the gas tank was full. I then gathered my PPE (helmet, gloves and goggles) and loaded the ATV onto the trailer. I completed my preparations about 10:30 p.m. and went to bed.
As expected, 4 a.m. came early. I stumbled out of bed, told my wife goodbye and headed for the door. Before I left, however, I climbed on the trailer and started up the ATV, just to make sure it would run. It was purring like a kitten, so I shut it off, got in the truck and headed to my friend’s house. After loading his ATV and hunting gear onto the trailer, we started the 45-minute drive to our hunting location.
Once we arrived, we unloaded both ATVs from the trailer, loaded our equipment (guns, tree stands and backpacks) and took off down the trail to our dismount spot. It was just before dawn, so we had on our headlights as we went one behind the other through the woods. I was in the lead and my friend was about 20-30 feet behind me. It took us about 15 minutes to reach our dismount point, where we unloaded our gear and walked the rest of the way to our hunting spot.
We reconnoitered the area and picked spots about 200 yards apart. I climbed a tree and set up my stand while my friend settled in a blind on the ground. For the next few hours, squirrels, birds and armadillos scattered throughout the woods making all kinds of racket. That was fine, but where were the deer?
As the afternoon passed and we’d yet to see even a single doe, we decided to call it quits. We walked back to our ATVs, packed our gear, and unloaded our guns and secured them in the scabbards. As we departed, I was leading the way. It was dark now, so we again had on our lights as we moved back down the trail.
As I approached a trail intersection, I stopped my ATV to get my bearings and make sure I was heading in the right direction. When I figured out the correct trail was straight ahead, I let off the brakes and began to move forward. Unaware that I had stopped, my friend came flying around the corner and slammed into the rear of my ATV.
The impact sent him flying over the handlebars and to the ground. I quickly shut off my four-wheeler and ran to see if he was OK. Fortunately, he was wearing his helmet, goggles and gloves and only suffered a small scratch on his arm. His ATV didn’t fare as well, but it is still drivable. He lost one headlight and the plastic grill cover was broken. After we picked up the pieces, we rode back to the trailer, packed our hunting gear and headed home.
As we drove home, we ate our sandwiches and discussed what had happened. The following points summarize the lessons we learned.
- We failed to conduct a risk assessment for the trip. We had been hunting together before, which led us to become complacent.
- My friend was driving an unfamiliar ATV. He had borrowed his son-in-law’s four-wheeler because his battery was dead.
- We failed to consider that when riding through the woods at night or during limited visibility, you have to reduce your speed and increase the amount of space between vehicles.
- Wearing proper PPE protects you. In this case, it worked just as it was designed.
- Don’t conduct an inspection on your ATV by yourself. Have a friend or family member inspect it with or after you. They may find something you overlooked.
- Take a safety course before going out into the woods.
We’re inundated with messages that warn us to drive and ride safely and responsibly. Remember, though, those rules also apply to any off-road activities as well. Be safe!
Did You Know?
The ATV Safety Institute has informative videos and classes available to help riders hone their skills. Check them out online at http://www.atvsafety.org/.